Petition drive organizers seek school board change : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Petition drive organizers seek school board change|
|Parents want officers to step down, other members to step up|
|by Lyle R. Rolfe|
Some parents in the Oswego School District are unhappy with the direction the school board is going so they are asking that the officers step down and allow someone else to take charge.
Mary Zarembski said she and other parents were talking about not being pleased with the board and decided to do something. They prepared a petition, and placed it on the Internet, asking people to sign it if they agreed that the board officers should be replaced.
They are not asking board members to resign, but that they relinquish their officer positions to members with more experience.
The officers are Bill Walsh, president, Ali Swanson, vice president-both of whom were elected last April-and Laurie Pasteris, secretary, who will be up for election next April.
Zarembski said they are hoping to get 1,000 signatures and as of Monday they had secured more than 200. She said they chose 1,000 signatures as their goal because in the April 2011 board election, the difference between the first and fourth place winners was 807 votes, while the different between the first and fifth was 988.
"So had there been 1,000 more voters it could have changed the direction of the board," she said.
Voter turnout in the election was approximately 17 percent.
The parents' online petition says, "The current leadership has shown itself to be ineffective as leaders during the past 12 months. They have demonstrated a lack of transparency and an inability to effectively communicate with the public.
"Furthermore they have made questionable fiscal decisions and have shown a disregard for their role as board members. While respecting the democratic process and election of the board members, we, the undersigned, respectfully request the following board members relinquish their leadership role." It then lists the names of Walsh, Swanson and Pasteris.
The parents are recommending the leadership positions be filled with the most experienced board members, which would be David Behrens, Lynn Cullick and Mike Scaramuzzi.
"We feel this is an important step to restore faith with both the constituents and employees of the district as well as help us guide our district forward," the petition says.
They plan to present the petitions to Walsh at a regular board meeting, which they hope will be attended by as many of their supporters as possible.
Zarembski said they will not be surprised nor disappointed if the board members refuse to comment as is usually their practice when audience members speak or ask questions during their meetings.
"The intent of the petition is really to give the community an opportunity to comment on the actions of the board and their leadership over the last year," she said.
When asked if they expect the three members to step down, she said, "All I can say is we hope they will respond appropriately to their constituents."
Some of the petition signers have expressed concern about the huge salary increase given to the new finance assistant superintendent compared to the previous finance superintendent. They also took issue with the increased salary the district may now pay the new superintendent. They also noted the expense of hiring consultants to search for people to replace the administrators.
Zarembski said they will be watching the salaries the board pays the two other assistant superintendents and two new principals yet to be hired.
While they are concerned about salaries, their main concern is the educational experience the new administrators will bring with them, she added.
They are also concerned about the direction and involvement the board has taken in hiring replacement administrators. Zarembski said she believes the board micromanaged when it conducted interviews for the recently hired assistant superintendent for finance.
"It's never been the role of the board, particularly in District 308. We need a much more transparent and collaborative process and that seems to not be the process at this time. We want to make sure they are picking the best leaders for our schools and our kids," she said.
Zarembski noted the board president sets the agenda for the board meetings. By asking the president and other board officers to step down, she said they are seeking a change in the tenure and the mix of the board.
"They were elected and we honor that. But they need a different direction and we think some of the other board members need to step up and show some leadership," she added.
One of their intentions is to raise voter awareness and urge people to pay attention to the issues and know what's going on.
"If presenting these to the board gets people out, that's a big part of it," she said.
Zarembski said local elections are difficult and they often need some kind of issue to get voters riled up and interested.
"Elections have consequences and it takes a while for those consequences to come to light so people have to see what happens," Zarembski said. "I believe we will have a better turnout at the next (April 2013) election because of these issues."
She added that she is not aware of any organized group of candidates for the April 2013 election but said she had heard names of possible candidates who would have a positive impact on the board if elected.
"There's a lot of issues the board will have facing them such as common core and state funding being cut so I hope that people who step up are ready to lead and tackle those issues collaboratively.
"I think we're going to start pounding the pavement and talking to more people about it. As they hear about they become more interested," Zarembski said.
She continued, "It's the local officials who have the most direct effect on our lives. We need everyone to be vested from the board, administration, educators, to parents. And I think the only way we're going to get through the difficult times we face is if everyone is in it together and that they work together for the kids."
Zarembski said she has lived in the district for eight years and has a second and fourth grader attending Long Beach Elementary School.
She also expressed disappointment at the pending departure of two school district principals, Tracy Murphy at Thompson Junior High School in Oswego and Kevin Lipke from Long Beach Elementary School in Boulder Hill.
Both Murphy and Lipke have accepted new positions with other school districts.
Zarembski said she had hoped the leadership in the district would have recognized that it was in the best interest of district students that the two principals remain with the district.
She also referred to the proposed third high school that was killed by the new board members and said it would have been great if the board would have worked to come up with solutions rather than just say it was too expensive.
Zarembski hopes they can get future board members who are creative and are problem solvers rather than people who just say no.
Jen Smith, a resident of the Plainfield area of the district, said she considered the petition for a day before signing it. She was the 14th person to sign it.
"They're making some decisions that are really going to have a negative impact on the district," she said.
After signing it she forwarded it to many people on her email list for their support and put it on her Facebook page for others to sign if they agree with the issues.
"It's not a legal document but it sends a message. I think with the most recent hiring decisions a lot of people who may have supported the board up to this point are having trouble swallowing that," Smith said. "I think they need to be more aware of what the community is saying and thinks because they represent everybody not just those who supported them in the election."
She said the new board members were agenda driven in the election with one issue-stop the third high school.
She commended the present administrators for the job they have done and said they are underpaid for what they do.
Smith said administrators have left the district over the past year because of an inability to work with the board.
"Now with the expense of a search firm and the higher salaries, it's hard to swallow," she said.
Smith added that she is trying to sell her house to move back home to Pennsylvania, but has had people cross it off their list because it's located in the Oswego School District.
She said she has sent emails to all the board members on various issues but almost always receives a response only from Walsh that thanks her for her concerns without answering any of her questions or concerns.
"It's like he's (Walsh) their spokesperson," she said, referring to the other board members. "It's frustrating."